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Students get hands-on learning with embryology project

Teaching Your Child

Teaching Your Child


There is an incubator in the back of our third-grade classroom.

We are studying embryology.

That means we are raising chickens. Actually, we're just waiting for some eggs to hatch.

Embryology is the study of the development of an embryo, a fertilized egg.

Much as a mother hen takes ownership of her eggs, the students are eagerly awaiting the arrival of our fluffy little friends.

For the next 21 days or so, we'll be making observations, recording temperatures and checking for signs of life.

It is truly amazing how quickly a chicken embryo develops. Within six days of fertilization, every part of the embryo - limbs, beak, brain, eyes - is present. The yolk is the main source of food for the growing embryo.


We have the privilege of watching new life form before our eyes, and that is exciting.

The Embryology in the Classroom program is offered through Maryland Cooperative Extension Service for grades two through eight. Teachers express an interest by completing a form. The training cost is $5, which includes the usage fee for the incubator, feeder, waterer, curriculum, poster, fertilized eggs and starter feed.

Beth A. Bubacz, extension educator for 4-H Youth Development, spoke to my students this week about their role in this egg-hatching experiment.

The eggs need to be turned so the developing chicks won't stick to the inside of the shell. The mother hen does this naturally as she's seemingly fussing around her nest, wiggling and settling into a comfortable position. Our eggs will be turned automatically in the incubator.

The incubator contains water because the eggs need moisture, but the eggs should not be put directly into the water.

Ventilation is important because the embryo needs oxygen, which enters through the air-permeable shell. As an embryo grows, it uses oxygen and gives off carbon dioxide.

The eggs need to be kept at 100 degrees, Bubacz told my students. The eggs need to be rotated because the temperature in the incubator might not be even. We will be checking the temperature three times a day to see if it is at the proper level.

This coincides with another subject. An upcoming math lesson deals with reading thermometers, a skill my students will practice over and over. The applied skill will mean more to them than anything they would do on a worksheet.

Three days before the eggs should start hatching, the turning will stop and we will begin waiting, watching for movement and listening for any pecking sounds.

The birds have a tooth at the end of their beaks that helps them break free from their shells. After pecking and pecking, the baby birds become very tired. When they come out of their shells, they will be wet and exhausted.

If a baby chick appears stuck in his shell, we're not to help him escape. We're supposed to let nature take its course.

Not all the eggs will hatch. There are several reasons, Bubacz says. Perhaps they weren't fertilized. Maybe they weren't turned enough. Or, maybe they weren't warm enough.

The ones that do hatch and make it through the egg pecking will lose their egg tooth within 12 to 24 hours after hatching. The tooth will dry and fall off, according to "Embryology: Hatching Classroom Projects," a publication of the National 4-H Cooperative Curriculum System Inc.

The chicks will be with us for as long as a week. Then they will be placed in a safe home. We can't keep them in the classroom for longer than that because the cute, fluffy yellow creatures will begin to seem not so cuddly. They will start to stink, Bubacz says.

I'm hoping that we have at least a few baby chicks at the end of April. If we do, I'll be sure to provide an update.

For more information about the Embryology in the Classroom program, call Bubacz at 301-791-1404 or e-mail

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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